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Common Agricultural Policy

Volume 974: debated on Thursday 29 November 1979

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2.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what is his latest estimate of the total cost of the common agricultural policy for 1980–81 and of the United Kingdom's contribution thereto.

The latest Community budget is for 1980. The estimated cost of the common agricultural policy in that year is about £7,488 million, to which the United Kingdom would contribute about £1,522 million. These estimates relate to Community arrangements as they stand at present and will be affected by future decisions on agricultural prices and other matters.

In view of the astronomical size of the budget and Britain's contribution to it, will the Minister explain why the Government voted at the weekend against a proposal to cut £180 million from subsidies to milk producers?

Basically, the Government consider that the best method of dealing with these matters is in the council of Ministers, where last year our position on milk prices and contributions to milk was made clear.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the figures that he has given are wholly unacceptable and deplorable to the people of this country? We look to the Prime Minister in Dublin in the hope that her just requests will be met by the EEC Council of Ministers.

Does the Minister agree with the report in The Guardian today that Whitehall acknowledges that there is now no practical or negotiable way to reform the CAP to the benefit of Britain? If so, does the right hon. Gentleman accept the implications of that?

As the previous Government found, it is important to recognise that making alterations and changes in the CAP is not a speedy procedure. Britain has an immediate grievance. That is why, quite rightly, we suggest that it is dealt with through the budget mechanism.

Does the Minister agree that, in view of the amount of money involved, the only way in which the Prime Minister will achieve any satisfaction in Dublin is to state that Britain will pay no more money into EEC funds until there is a fundamental renegotiation of the CAP?

If I may say so, this Prime Minister has been far more robust on that matter than was the previous Prime Minister. The previous Government sat here while the cost of the CAP went up from £1,600 million to £7,000 million and did virtually nothing, so I cannot really take that criticism from the Opposition.

In view of the enormous cost that it appears we shall have to pay towards the CAP, does my right hon. Friend agree that it is worth pointing out that that results from the much heralded renegotiations by the Labour Government?

Part of the reason for increased costs in the coming year is that a number of the measures that the previous Government agreed to only benefited other countries.

The Prime Minister is making strenuous efforts to rectify the imbalance in the budgetary arrangements, but what proposals does the right hon. Gentleman have to renegotiate the CAP and get a better deal for Britain?

We started last year. Unlike our predecessors, who agreed to price increases at every price fixing on those items in surplus, we started by freezing the price of the major items in surplus.

What the right hon. Gentleman will not admit to the House is that before he became the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food my right hon. Friend had already managed to establish a price freeze on all products for three months. The right hon. Gentleman broke that arrangement at his first ministerial meeting.

If I may say so, my predecessor in one price negotiation after another agreed to price increases on all those items in surplus. It is to the benefit of this country that he did not handle the last pricings.